by E. David Dougherty
World mission mobilizers are confronted by a bewildering array of opinions, facts, and new realities. Among them: The MARC Mission Handbook reports a leveling off in long-term missionaries. Patrick Johnstone of Operation World reports that 10,000 of the world’s 12,000 ethnolinguistic people groups have church-planting teams.
Field missionaries describe extra work generated by short-term teams and fear the consequences of some inappropriate conduct by “prayer walk” teams.
The AD2000 and Beyond Movement reports progress toward church-planting movements among the unreached, while missiologists track increasing resistance among Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.
Such trends, among others, point to a significant division among mission mobilizers and strategists, perhaps one of the most important shifts since the end of World War II. The increased emphasis on the challenge of unreached peoples has highlighted two major streams of action.
1. Missions as process. This is the ongoing activity of traditional agencies, churches, and training institutions. They focus on fulfilling the Great Commission in every nation and among every people group.
2. Missions as project. This is the new outreach of mobilization organizations, churches, and individuals. They focus primarily on the unreached, or the least reached, people groups.
Where did these streams originate? Ralph Winter has described three major eras of Protestant missionary endeavor: the coastlands era (1792-1865), pioneered by William Carey; the inland era (1865-1935), pioneered by Hudson Taylor; and the people group era (1935-present), pioneered by Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran. This movement nurtured (and was nurtured by) the missions as process stream.
At the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Winter presented his vision for world missions. Having studied the church growth movement, he said that 2.7 billion people were beyond the reach of Christian witness because they lacked a viable, indigenous, evangelizing church in their culture.
Winter himself was part of the missions as process stream, having served as a Presbyterian missionary in Guatemala. He was an enthusiastic proponent of mission agencies as the channel through which the gospel should be taken to the unreached (or “hidden peoples,” as he then called them). His paper, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Program,” was a compelling argument for mission agencies to accomplish the cross-cultural dimension of the Great Commission.
However, while Winter was identifying the unfinished task, several other movements arose that influenced mission mobilizers. Christian Baby Boomers sought to renew the churches in terms of vision and purpose. They wanted to release the laity to accomplish ministry tasks.
Finishing the task of world evangelization caught their attention. The charismatic movement led to the establishment of tens of thousands of independent charismatic churches.
National churches grew significantly in many parts of the world and started to reach the unreached in their own countries. These new resources for world evangelization did not fit easily into the existing mission structures and strategies.
So, by the middle of the 1980s, mission mobilizers were confronted by a number of powerful new influences:
- The can-do spirit of evangelical Baby Boomers looking for a cause.
- The renewed church refocused on its purposes and effective ministry.
- The laity equipped with spiritual gifts, empowered and released for ministry.
- The new emphasis on God’s power manifested in signs and wonders.
- The increasing focus on experiential intimacy with God in worship.
- The influence of the approaching turn of the century and the new millennium.
- The growing movement of national churches doing cross-cultural ministry.
The existing structures in the missions as process stream were not readily able to assimilate these new people and new ideas. Therefore, at least two things happened: (1) new organizations sprang up toaccommodate them; and (2) some churches started to see world missions as they saw the other ministries in the church, as something they should and can do themselves. These grassroots developments gave birth to the new missions as project stream.
Of course, this does not mean the missions as process stream dried up. Some agencies and churches within this stream continued to thrive and drew their resources from their traditional supporters, but others struggled to keep going, and some did not make it.
The current situation. Both streams are mobilizing people and churches today. While there is some overlap, many people mobilizing within their stream are largely unaware of the other. When they do become aware of each other, often there is criticism, annoyance, and even disdain. This is unfortunate, since both streams make significant contributions. However, the result often is both inefficiency (because of duplication and competition) and ineffectiveness (because they seldom share wisdom and tools).
The missions as project stream shows great vitality and enthusiasm, with new strategies, new resources, and new structures growing steadily.
However, it is too soon to judge this stream’s overall effectiveness. Most fruit is still years away. The bulk of the resources invested in world evangelization is still under the direction of agencies in the missions as process stream. They are seeing the fruit of new churches planted around the world over the past 100 years.
Communication between mobilizers in the two streams often takes the form of complaints and accusations. Such a spirit does not lead to constructive dialogue, greater understanding, and cooperation.
Of course, some mobilizers work in both streams, making serious attempts to bring understanding, healing, and cooperation.
Examining the streams. These are the major features of missions as process and missions as project. Keep in mind that these are not airtight compartments. Some elements are present in both streams. For example, many agencies in the missions as process stream make serious attempts to reach people in the 10/40 Window.
The chart on the facing page shows how people in the two streams understand and describe their own work. For example: People in the missions as process stream can understand that when people in the missions as project stream talk about their goal of “a church for every people by the year 2000,” they are not ignorant of the years it takes to establish a church-planting movement. They are talking about starting a project.
People in the missions as project stream can understand why traditional agencies, planning to be on the scene for decades and thus spending money on infrastructure and administration, are not wasting resources.
People in the missions as project stream can grasp why those in the missions as process stream are not convinced that the panaceas offered by power evangelism and spiritual warfare will necessarily bring the needed breakthroughs in resistant areas.
At the same time, with tens of thousands of people in the missions as project stream, it would be helpful if the MARC Mission Handbook could find a way to document this development, since it only covers the agencies.
Suggestions for the future. By far the most positive change would be if those in both streams would acknowledge that their counterparts not only exist but are a legitimate part of world evangelization. We sorely need mutual appreciation and respect, which would provide the foundation for more constructive communication.
Agencies in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Western Pacific should not consider the 10/40 Window focus a repudiation of their work. Rather, they should mobilize the established churches in those regions to reach the least reached.
The churches, of course, should provide the bulk of the resources, but they sometimes need help in training, for example.
Agencies in the missions as process stream should cultivate churches eager to pursue new missionsstrategies. They must train their people how to relate to this growing movement.
Since new workers in the missions as project stream often benefit from the infrastructures provided by traditional agencies, they should be willing to reimburse the providers for services rendered. They should also help to develop new funding for the benefit of those who will follow them. Unfortunately, sometimes missions as project people criticize traditional agencies’ support figures while blithely using their language schools, MK schools, and medical services—without helping to pay for them.
The unfinished task is too great for mission mobilizers to be divided. It is time to draw together in humility and prayer, thanking God for the giftedness and contributions of those in both streams.
Our demonstration of unity, humility, and cooperation will do much more to draw unbelievers to Christ than will our self-promotion and defensiveness.
E. David Dougherty has served on the headquarters staff of OMF International since 1988, and is active in a number of cooperative missions-mobilizing and missions-training initiatives. Before that he spent 17 years in pastoral ministry, including 14 years as founding pastor of Bible Fellowship Riverside (California).
Paul E. Pierson
avid Dougherty speaks of the bewildering array of changes that has led to a paradigm shift in North American missions similar to what took place after World War II. I would add that the changes are not limited to North America. Indeed, I believe that one of these, the internationalization of mission, is the most significant new factor in the missionary movement since the German Pietists and Moravians, and later Carey, went to Asia in the 18th century.
But there are many other changes. New types of churches, often with their own mission movements, are springing up, not only in North America, but in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We are already beginning to see similar churches in Europe. Creative movements of contextualization are leading to new responsiveness among some resistant groups (e.g. Muslims) in some areas. We have witnessed growing evangelical ecumen-ism and cooperation since Lausanne I in 1974. A variety of new mission structures, often more flexible and innovative, are coming into existence. (These often accompany a radically changed historical context and new mission paradigms.) We also see a growing disparity between rich and poor in many parts of the economically growing world. Urbanization, which changes how people live and relate to each other, constitutes another major challenge.
In this context the author’s typology of mission as process and mission as project is helpful, and his call for interaction and cooperation should be heard by all concerned. Actually, this is already taking place to a significant degree, especially in the recent Global Consultation on World Evangelization gatherings, where representatives from both streams were present. Even the World Wide Ministries of the Presbyterian Church-U.S.A., one of the oldest “Mainline” agencies, has endorsed the goals of AD2000.
I would like to make five further observations.
1. The unreached peoples concept is helpful but inadequate as the centerpiece of our paradigm. Cultures constantly change, and never more so than in our period of history. A former Wycliffe missionary once told me that to reach a certain group in Guatemala, you had to go either to an area in the northern part of that country, or to a certain barrio of East Los Angeles. But, affected by their radically different contexts, they quickly become two different “people groups.” Thus, people groups are clearly a moving target. So while I recognize the usefulness of the concept, I do not believe it reflects adequately the full understanding of mission in Scripture.
2. Winter’s Three Era typology is helpful, but I believe we have entered a fourth, the era of the urban centers. The burgeoning cities of the world are a new and unique historical phenomenon. Winter’s first two eras involved geography; the third, culture. Mission to the urban centers involves a focus on both. Most major cities of the world, in the West and in the Two-Thirds World, count scores of different language/culture groups in their populations, often grouped together in specific areas of the cities. At the same time, the citydwellers face many new issues not encountered in their traditional village life. Discovering how to communicate the gospel and demonstrate its relevance to these urban immigrants must be one of the most critical issues for missions in the future.
3. I am not comfortable with the oft-heard implication (not in this article) that we will “complete the Great Commission when a viable church is planted in every unreached people group.” I have already said that people groups are a moving target, constantly changing. But beyond that, what about the rest of the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”? Is that not part of the Missio Dei? If so, it becomes clear that mission must also involve that “teaching,” which is designed to lead believers to discover what it means to follow Christ in their own contexts and will include ministries of compassion and social outreach. The question is, do expatriate missionaries have a role in this “teaching,” or is it to be left entirely to the recently planted church? For example, can they help new tribal churches discover the radical concept that the gospel of reconciliation involves new relationships with their traditional enemies, who may also be Christian? Our African brothers and sisters tell us that in their continent, where the church has grown so rapidly, tribalism is still a curse and that Christians are not immune. I suspect that expatriates have a role to play in such issues, just as Christians from outside North American culture can help us see where we still can learn to “observe all” that Christ has commanded us.
4. I am sure that as time passes we will see each stream, process and project, learn from the other. Those in the former will be challenged to reexamine the deployment of their resources, focus their efforts more sharply, and move away from the temptations of routine and maintenance to discover what God is calling them to do in their changing contexts. On the other hand, those committed to planting churches only among the unreached will soon face overwhelming human needs in and around the newly planted churches. Their understanding of mission will almost certainly broaden. At that point they will attempt to discover how to partner with newer churches and older agencies in meeting such needs as a manifestation of the compassion of Christ and witness to the gospel. I hope this will happen without their losing the primary focus of reaching the unreached.
5. A major challenge for both streams is to learn how to work increasingly in partnership with the existing churches in the areas where they go. In the case of the totally unreached, a major challenge is how to partner with other agencies, from one’s own and other countries, and with other church traditions that may be working in the same areas. While we rightly fear attempts to impose order on such efforts from some centralized source (and recognize its impossibility), we can also see the destructiveness and waste when each group totally ignores the others, acting as if it alone is responsive to the Great Commission.
This is an amazingly exciting and creative period in the mission movement, which is more widespread than ever. At the same time, we are in the greatest period of technological, social, and political change the world has ever seen. The two are not unrelated. One of my faculty colleagues often says, “Whenever we go into a new culture, we go as learners.” That implies learning about the language and culture, about human need, and discovering what God is doing among the people to whom we go. I suggest that as we move into the new millennium of mission, we go as learners, being enriched from streams of mission movements different from our own as well those of other countries, cultures, and church traditions. And as we go with this learning posture, certainly the Lord himself will bring the harvest even as he teaches us how to be obedient.
Paul E. Pierson teaches mission history at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission (Pasadena, Calif.).
Greg H. Parsons
Dave Dougherty is well qualified to address this topic. He has experience as a pastor and inleadership training with OMF International. He also was deeply involved in the early years of the U.S. Center for World Mission. Dave has given an insightful overview of two paradigms, the tensions and issues they raise, as well as the impact on the missions movement in general and the frontier mission movement specifically.
Naturally, when you split people into two groups, you find few who ideally fit into either one. For example, I strongly support the mission as process approach in much of what I do, but I see goals for mission in “accomplishment” terms (see the project column, second point). Mobilization from a mentality of hope in what God can do soon is why we have promoted what can be done by the year 2000, not that it will be easy (or necessarily done the way we have always done it!).
What Dave didn’t have the space to mention was the confusion in mission circles today that grows out of the large, grassroots mobilization efforts especially, though not exclusively, through the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. People all over the world have caught a vision of the hope, potential, and excitement of seeing the gospel effectively spread into the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist worlds. The success of these movements grows out of a hope in closure and yet points to special training needs for those new to the movement (see below).
Many of those who are part of this mobilization are also new to cross-cultural outreach and may not realize the need for long-term strategies, or long-term prayer commitment. We have all heard horror stories about missionaries who tried an outreach strategy that worked well at home, only to see it fail in another culture. I have heard from churches that want to adopt a people group for a year or less rather than until the church is well established.
God can work through whatever methods he chooses, and he can work as fast as he wants. But he may not always work quickly, and that may lead to frustration on the field or at home.
Dave begins by mentioning the bewildering array of issues that confront mobilization practitioners, and one could probably list a couple dozen more! I limit my comments to two. First is the widely reported decline in the number of long-term missionaries (Dave notes that this decline has leveled off).
Often I have heard mission speakers misunderstand or misinterpret “statistics” or trends. For example, does a reported or interpreted decline in the number of long-term missionaries force us to conclude there is a decline in mission candidates going out—as some have said? Many have carelessly assumed that if the vast surge of new missionaries after World War II is coming home that the number of new missionaries going suddenly is falling off, too. There is no connection!
Is it possible that, instead, we are seeing an increase in candidates, say, over the last 15 years overall? Counting missionaries alone doesn’t tell us all we need to know.
Or, suppose that 2,000 ethnolin-guistic peoples need church-planting teams. What happens if you add the social dynamic to that? This might add up to 5,000 groups by Donald McGavran’s definition. In a country like India, it gets far more complex. For example, based on new field research by India researchers, the estimated number of truly active languages has been cut from about 1,600 to between 400 and 500.
Thus, the language and translation task in India is more “simple” than we thought. Does this mean that the church will grow among neighboring unreached castes as the gospel takes root in another group of the same language? (I can already hear someone saying, “Look at the progress we are making in India; two-thirds of the job is done!”)
All this points to a special need: training for mobilizers. While the need for properly trained field missionaries is clear and generally accepted, often we forget that people back home need training, too. This need seems to increase as the movement grows and information—accurate, inaccurate, and incomplete—is available via e-mail forums and on the Internet. If the last 20years of work in the mobilization arena have taught us anything, it is that excited, mobilized, but poorly trained people can easily do more damage than good—both here and there. No one questions the good-heartedness of these “at-home mobilizers.” But without the right context and understanding that comes through training and experience, we don’t know how to interpret the information we hear.
This need for training has caused the U.S. Center for World Mission to produce an up-to-the-M.A.-level distance-based program, which can be customized to prepare mobilizers (or field workers) for effective ministry right where they are. This was a major effort. Only one project has gotten more funding and none more attention from our staff in the last six years.
Perhaps one reason for the occasional overzealousness of the new paradigm is the quick-breakthrough mentality. We have such great access to information, we assume all of it is true. I can’t keep track of the number of stories I have heard or read (some of them in our own publications) that turned out to be inaccurate at best and at times untrue. These stories increase with more people using e-mail and the Web.
I’m concerned that we tend to gravitate to people groups where we see exciting things happening, and shy away from “tough” areas. The rush into Russia is one example. At one point there were almost 900 ministries in Moscow alone! Another is Mongolia, with almost 50 agencies for a country with less than 3 million people!
Years of motivating people toward mission has taught us that quick and/or sustained breakthroughs are not the norm in the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist worlds. We pray they would be, and, indeed, God has done amazing things in unbelievable places with difficult peoples. Usually, long-term efforts take hard work bathed in prayer.
The missions as project paradigm may allow us to try new things. Yet sometimes I wonder if often these projects are not in essence good-hearted attempts to transplant culture rather than the gospel.
If mobilizers and new missionaries, with either paradigm, don’t get the tools they need to understand our world and specific cultures in it, how much farther will we get in the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist worlds?
I have raised only a few of the questions we need to grapple with to continually improve mission mobilization, prayer, and the long-term ministry needed among unreached peoples.
Greg H. Parsons is executive director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, Pasadena, Calif.
I applaud my friend Dave Dougherty’s article, “What’s happening to missions mobilization?” He makes a fair, objective assessment of the current American mobilization scene, and his chart comparing and contrasting the two mobilization streams is insightful and practical.
I agree that the apparent polarization between the missiologically conservative local churches that take a missions as process approach and the methodologically progressive local churches that take a missions as project approach may describe reality. I also agree that both approaches have obvious inherent strengths and limitations. My response to Dougherty’s article will not attempt to fine-tune his present-day assessment, but to show how both approaches can be synthesized into a very workable church-based strategy for the American church in the 21st century.
The fact is, as a missions pastor, over 28 years in 3 local churches, I have used a strategy which snythesizes the strengths of both approaches. This strategy makes the short-termer (one who serves for one to two years) the cornerstone of its “game plan,” satisfying the missions as project crowd. At the same time its most obvious long-term feature is the placement of career workers (those who serve for two to four terms) in the most strategic overseas assignments, satisfying the missions as process crowd. This strategy can work for any kind of evangelical church, whether it is new or old, large or small, experienced or inexperienced, urban, suburban, or rural. Let me explain, step by step, how I have implemented this strategy in my own church. Here are 10 steps yourchurch or your supporting church(es) can follow.
1. The short-term experience must be the centerpiece of a church’s missions program. Switch, don’t fight. The short-term movement is here to stay and is an obvious grassroots movement that is still growing every year. Go where God is working. Make the short-term experience work for the church, rather than against it.
2. A local church should establish a clear vision statement and work out a strategic and tactical plan for its missions program. This will take some time, but it is the most important thing missiologically that a church can do. It should be clear enough that any eighth grader can understand it.
3. A church should infuse its missions budget (whether it is “faith promise” or “unified”) with a one-time cash allocation. It could be $25,000 or $250,000. The amount doesn’t matter. It only needs to be large enough to fully support at least one missionary unit for one year.
4. A church should set up a candidate training program that begins to sort potential candidates into the “class of ’98,” the “class of ’99,” and so on. This way a church is already thinking two to four years ahead about whom it may send. It helps the planning process tremendously.
5. In sending out the first short-termer (assuming he or she is fully prepared for the assignment), a church should pick up everything that the missionary unit lacks in support to get to the field. The figure could be 30 percent, 60 percent, or even 100 percent. Why? Most churches and individuals hesitate to support someone going as a missionary for only one or two years. Also, Boomers hate to ask for money—many would rather not go than ask for funds. A church can make it easy for everyone by taking responsibility and getting this person to the field as fast as possible. (Not that much money is needed, since short-termers usually don’t need to raise money for cars, retirement, and other large-ticket items.)
Use the money in the new account to get them to the field quickly, since it doesn’t make sense to force Boomers to spend 22 months raising support for a short-term assignment.
6. Short-termers should be sent to an area that is at least compatible with the local church’s long-term strategic plan, or even a direct extension of it. Try to send them to the place and with the organization they might go with long term. That way, whether short-termers go long term or not, they still will be moving forward key ministries that the home church feels very strongly about. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
7. When short-termers return, the church should evaluate their experiences in order to assess their call to the ministry, personal vision, ministry skills, theological depth, language learning aptitudes, organizational compatibility, and cross-cultural adjustments. Only a short-term experience can provide a church with that kind of assessment. Vision trips and summer ministries don’t allow participants to experience culture shock. They don’t have to set up house, learn a language, shop, renew visas, as short-termers do, since the shock doesn’t hit until six to 18 months into the experience. (One of the main reasons for missionary attrition during or at the end of the first term is the set of unrealistic expectations that the vision trip or summer ministry set up in the new missionary’s mind. A short-term experience would have tempered or balanced these expectations.). Don’t underestimate the value of the two-year short-term experience.
8. Some short-termers will not go back to the field as long-term missionaries. The church should put those short-termers’ annual budget allocation back into next year’s budget. Others will want to go back, but not immediately. They may first need to get more schooling, pay off debts, get married, or get more ministry experience or training. Put their annual budget allocation back into next year’s budget, too. A church can use those funds for supporting its “class of ’99.”
9. Those short-termers who want to return long term immediately (within the nextsix months) now have fire in their bellies. They can speak articulately and with passion. They have the war stories and the video footage. Now they don’t mind support-raising so much, and others view them as returning veterans, not untried rookies. They can also go to other churches to raise support and can raise it relatively easily. The home church can then reduce the monthly allotment it was giving them, since other support is coming in.
Put the unneeded funds back into the “starter fund” for next year’s short- termers. I have never seen a situation in over 25 years where a church, following this plan, gave more monthly support to long-termers than was given to them as short-termers.
10. About half of the short-termers will not go back long term; about a fourth will go back long term, but not immediately; and about a fourth will go back long term immediately. A church will be able to use most of the funds from last year’s short-term account to send out new candidates next year.
It may be necessary to add $5,000 or $10,000 more each year, but not much more (this could be viewed as the mission budget’s inflation-adjusted 5 percent annual increase). Every year those same funds are there to keep a church’s missions vision expanding and maturing.
In this paradigmal synthesis, the short-term missionary, the cornerstone of the missions as project approach, becomes the single greatest driving force in mobilizing the local church for world missions.
At the same time, the short-termer stream becomes the single greatest conduit for flooding the world with field-tested, strategically thinking, and adequately supported long-term missionaries, the hallmark of the missions as process approach. Don’t allow your church or supporting church(es) to become ar